When I started writing this piece, I set a timer for forty-give minutes. My writing time usually stretches into hours across multiple days as I tweak and rewrite, add and delete. I’m not sure all of that work is really necessary. There’s contentment in having something turn out perfect. But I think there can be even more joy in “good enough.”
I recently read an article about people that behavioral economists call “maximizers” or “satisficers” (the word a portmanteau of “satisfy” and “suffice”). A maximizer wants to make the “best” decision and may not be content until she is convinced that she has exhausted every lesser option. A satisficer, by contrast, will make her decision as soon as she finds any suitable option—one that is good enough.
The studies this article cited founded that while maximizers might end up with better outcomes, they often weren’t particularly happy with them, questioning whether there might have been an even better option that they hadn’t considered. Satisficers know it’s pretty likely a better option exists out there somewhere—they’re just not particularly hung up on that. They’ve found something that meets their needs, and they’re ready to devote their time and energy to something else.
People are sometimes surprised that I only applied to one college for undergrad. Part of it was inexperience—I was only seventeen and didn’t realize that most people spread their net wider. But also, I had a clearly-defined list of things that I was looking for in a college, and when I found one that fulfilled that list, I simply stopped looking. I’m usually a “satisficer.” When I find something interesting on a menu, I order it, without agonizing over whether there is something else even more delicious out there. I moved into the first decent apartment I found online. When I was offered a good job, I took it.
Satisficing doesn’t mean you lack standards. It just means you’re realistic about those standards. You stop shopping when you find a coat that’s warm, neutrally colored, and cheaper than $50. Maybe you could find one with a slimmer fit or warmer cuffs, but you decide to spare yourself the three hours of traipsing through eight different stores across two different malls.
In a world consumed by perfectionism, this “satisficing” can seem counter-cultural. Sometimes it’s a break from materialism, from thinking that any one thing is going to make you happy. Or you could apply the idea to relationships, finding the core values that really matter to you in a partner and overlooking the fact that he’s older or younger or shorter than you or that he likes walnuts in his banana bread.
I think this concept is helpful in thinking about work as well. This isn’t a message for the people out there who aren’t applying themselves or who know they could do more. This is a message for those whose tendency is towards perfectionism. Know the expectations; meet them; surpass them. But then stop there, at “good enough.” take a deep breath, and let yourself move on to something else.
Katerina Parsons (’15) lives in Washington D.C., where she works in advocacy at Mennonite Central Committee’s Washington office and studies international development at American University’s School of International Service. She spends a lot of time thinking about US policy towards Central America and North Korea, writing, singing, and searching for the city’s best pupusas (suggestions welcome).